China’s Wife Shortage Threatens to Increase Human Trafficking


Over the next decade, China will become a nation of bachelors, as the gender gap grows to 24 million more marriage-eligible men than women. Does this mean a huge spike in sales of Ikea futons and a run on Shanghai Hooters franchises? Maybe. But it also likely means there will be a increase in the trafficking of women to China to serve as wives and be enslaved in commercial sex. And here’s why.

The Chinese gender gap was created by China’s one-child-per-family policy, which was initially instituted to keep the population down. However, because boy children are valued more than girl children in many parts of Chinese society, millions of families chose to abort female fetuses until they got a male child. Thus, for generations, many more boys than girls were born in China. It took Chinese officials a long time to realize (and even longer to admit) that maybe having a country full of testosterone-charged young men unable to find a date was not good for political or economic stability. But by then, it was too late, and the gender gap had become a reality.

So why will the Chinese gender gap lead to an increase in human trafficking in the region? First, some of those 24 million single men will want wives. And when they can’t find Chinese wives, they’ll look to import them from other countries in the region, where women are looking for an opportunity to live and work in a more affluent country. Of the international marriage brokers who step in and fill this gap, some will be committed to the woman’s safety. But many will be out make a quick buck, regardless of the client’s criminal background or other concerns, and others will simply kidnap, coerce, or deceive women to fill the demand for wives.

Secondly, some of those 24 million men will want to have sex. And they’ll begin to import women for commercial sex, just like for marriage. Some women may travel to China voluntarily for prostitution, but traffickers will also see an opportunity to make money off selling women for sex against their will. In addition to Chinese male demand for wives and commercial sex increasing trafficking, some researchers have predicted that lower-income men will have particular problem finding wives, leading to an uptick in crime in the region.

What began as a population-reduction policy a few decades ago has produced in China demand for human trafficking and a population of possible traffickers. The globalization of those decades and a number of other factors have produced a supply of potential victims from nearby countries. The Chinese government could not have built a situation more ripe for an explosion of rampant slavery had they intended to. Trafficking is a significant problem in China now, but much of it is internal. I think there will be a tipping point in China — maybe this year and maybe not for several more — that opens the floodgates of international trafficking in women.

The only lining in this cloud (which is more pewter than silver) is that I’ve come up with a great pitch for a new Fox reality show: 1 beautiful woman. 24 million eligible men. It’s The Bachelorette: Beijing.

Photo credit: schmeeve



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